Saturday, January 31, 2009

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Herbert Hoover Birthplace

I-80, America's second-longest interstate highway, is the closest thing to being the nation's main street. Not only does it approximate the old Lincoln Highway, but west of Omaha, the road's path closely matches our first transcontinental railroad.

I've driven on I-80 dozens of times, and noted to myself, when I've seen a sign promoting an historic site, "One day, I'll pull off and go there."

"One day" was a Sunday earlier this month, when Little Marathon Pundit and I visited the Herbert Hoover Birthplace and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. It's about a one-quarter of a mile north of I-80.

Hoover was born in 1874, and amazingly enough, he was the first president born west of the Mississippi River. Louisiana was admitted into the union in 1812, part of that state is west of the great river.

The two room cottage where Hoover was born was built in 1871 by the future president's father, Jesse, and his grandfather. The Hoovers, Herbert had an older brother and a younger sister, lived in the two room house until 1879, when they moved to a larger home in West Branch. They were devout Quakers, on the birthplace site, pictured on the right, is the Friends Meeting House, where the Hoovers and other Quakers--who are formally known as the Society of Friends--worshipped. The 31st president's father was a prosperous blacksmith, and a reconstructed blacksmith shop, pictured on the left, is on the grounds, as is his first school--the original structure survives.

Circumstances for the Hoover family took a tragic turn in 1880 when Jesse died. Four years later, Hulda, Hoover's mother, passed away. The three children were sent to live with different relatives, although they were reunited under one roof in 1888.

A few years later, Hoover enrolled at Stanford University, and began his career that brought him to the White House in that fateful year of 1929.

Hoover never lived in Iowa after the death of his mother, but Iowa never left him, as he reminisced many years later:

My recollection of my father is of necessity dim indeed, but I retain one vivid memento from this time. Playing barefoot around the blacksmith shop, I stepped on a chip of hot iron and carry the brand of Iowa on my foot to this day.

Next: The Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum

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